What inspired you to adapt the legend of Madam White Snake for the Singapore stage?
I’d always been intrigued by the legend, which – on the surface – is that of forbidden love between a female snake spirit and a male human being. I think there are many ways of looking at a story like this, ranging from examining a culture’s anxieties about the ‘mysterious’ power that women wield, to reflecting on how trouble ensues when humans, with their finite knowledge, enact rules that they think are backed by a divine will.
But what I found most inspiring about the story is how it has evolved over time. In the beginning, the White Snake was a villainous character, while the monk was seen as a saviour. Eventually, however, the White Snake came to be commended for her selflessness, while the monk has been criticised for his rigidity. I think these are the kinds of stories that excite me: where the reader is shown the human in the monster and the monster in the human.
How does Mama White Snake differ from the original story?
The original is a beloved folktale, so it was a challenge to try to stay true to telling that story while, at the same time, introducing new elements. I wanted to shift the perspective away from that of Madam White Snake and her sister, Green Snake, such that it is told from the viewpoint of Meng, a young person, for whom the world of the snake spirits is one of surprise and wonder. Also, while the original story focused more on romantic love, I wanted Mama White Snake to focus more on maternal love.
What are some of the key themes raised in Mama White Snake?
One of the questions that Meng asks in the show is: ‘Why be normal when you can be special?’ And I think the play is, in many ways, a celebration of unconventionality. Meng has grown up in, technically, a single-parent household, raised by a very hardworking, widowed mother and her sister. But these women are not just efficient domestic administrators, but also fighters, in a very literal sense. And I think the script pays tribute to the strength and spirit of all women who’ve had to fight hard – against uncaring policies or social stigmas – to raise their families.
Mama White Snake plays at the Drama Centre Theatre from 24 November to 16 December 2017! Get your tickets at SISTIC today!